Students build wind turbine

For their senior project, three Ashland High School boys have built a 350-watt wind turbine that they say is simple to build in a weekend, will cost $500 and will power three 100-watt light bulbs indefinitely — and help the planet at the same time.

The 6-foot-wide windmill was on display on the AHS quad Wednesday during lunch hour, where it attracted many questions from students — and will be featured in a public talk at the high school Friday.

The boys, seniors Jordan Alexander and Noah Slater and junior David Erhun, assembled the three-bladed device from wood, wire, magnets, bolts and other commonly available materials in about 400 hours, spending $850. But now that they know the process, they can do it a lot faster and cheaper, they said.

"It's affordable, easy to produce, is clean energy and is efficient," Erhun said. "In an energy-efficient house, you would only need two of them to supply power for the whole home, but in an average house, you'd need three or four."

Its workings are simple, but not well understood by the general public, which focuses mainly on solar and convention power sources, so it faces an uphill battle to get accepted, Erhun said.

Wind spins the blades (on bearings), turning a wood disk of coiled copper wire against another disk of eight magnets, a process long known to generate a DC electricity, which is condensed into a battery and converted to household AC, Alexander said.

A tail vane keeps the mill nosed into the wind and will automatically fold so it doesn't get damaged in winds above 30 mph.

The wind turbine has to be mounted at least 30 feet in the air to get above trees, buildings and other obstacles — and the builders are considering auctioning the generator to a an owner of rural land, where it can be put to use and be an educational attraction on alternative energy tours.

The elevation of the mill is important because the Rogue Valley doesn't get as much wind as other prime spots in Oregon — the coast, Columbia Gorge and high desert country — Erhun said.

"We're going to see what the market is and how people react to it," he said. "There isn't a lot of drive to go for it with wind power among the public. It seems to be for small use, at this point."

The design, popularized in Hugh Piggott's "A Wind Turbine Recipe Book" (2009), is simple, quiet, safe for birds and could be built in a weekend workshop with 10 students, Erhun said.

Excess energy could be fed back to the power grid using a grid tie inverter, which is an expensive component made only by a few companies, Ehrun said.

Erhun learned how to build it last summer at the Camp for Climate Action in London — and work began in September. It's about a fourth of the size of such models that are widely used in Europe.

"It's a powerful machine, built by hand from easily available raw materials," Alexander said. "I hope it advances sustainable energy. We're going to show it around the valley."

If they get an order to build one, they'd charge up to $700, building in little payment for themselves because "it will get people interested and will be good for the environment," Erhun said. A similar commercial model would be priced at $2,000, he said.

The trio is reachable through Erhun at 541-778-8968.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. He can be reached at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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